theunfamiliarname

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 33B

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Small hordes of tourists jump off their coaches,
pour into the back of the churches and cathedrals
– and art galleries and monuments – the world over,
point and click and smile and snap and chatter and zoom,
then pour out the door and back onto the bus to the next tourist checkpoint.

It happens.
Tourism is a reality in this world of global travel.
Some of us may have been guilty of it in other countries.

If the disciples in this morning’s gospel had lived in our age,
they might well have been pointing and snapping away as they,
good old country boys, marvel at the architecture of big city Jerusalem.
The disciples are this morning tourists:
“Look teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”
As usual, Jesus doesn’t leave them simply smiling and snapping.

The world of Church missions can all too often be to us
like some sort of exotic place we smile and point at,
we focus our attentions on and give to as we’re able.
But it can be to us as shallow an experience
as running through the door of some great building, pointing out how big it is,
a quick snapshot to prove we’ve been there and we’re back on board the bus.

Christian missions is not inviting us to that kind of relationship – or lack of it.
Missions is about something that’s far, far more substantial.
Missions calls us to become aware of the people and the stories of a place
and to recognise we’re not tourists at all, but pilgrims – they and us –
together on a journey which has so much more to it than one-way traffic,
be it missionaries or finances.

I was privileged – beyond any words I have to express it –
to have spent two years in Fiji as a student preparing for ordination.
Let me tell you a story that for me sums up what missions could be like:

For one term I visited Eneri and his family.
Eneri was a stroke victim, unable to work and living on a housing project.
One concrete block room for himself and his wife and their three young children.

When I was completing my time in Fiji I went to see Eneri,
taking a few thin shirts and lavalavas I thought I might not need in Dunedin.
And Ereni gave me a parrot.
A broken parrot.
A wooden parrot with a broken beak,
the kind I could have picked up, and undamaged, at any number of tourist traders.
It is, I must say, one of the most beautiful things I possess,
as I see now it was for him.

Like the story of the widow’s mite that was last week’s gospel,
I gave out of my abundance.  He gave out of his poverty.
And let me tell you, I went away by far the greater enriched.

How about the people of St Athanasius, in a sort of squatter village
a few kilometres outside of Suva,
where the descendants of Solomon Islands indentured labourers,
people with no traditional access to land,
worshipped joyfully on their Children’s Sunday,
and were enjoying their colourful copies of the Anglican Missions magazine,
also distributed in Polynesia,
a recognition that they are our mission partners
every bit as much as we are theirs.

The people of St Athanasius
were building a church for their growing congregation.
Already they have a large concrete block basement.
But concrete blocks cost money,
and most of the congregation were not part of the cash economy.

Or St Christopher’s home in Suva
a pretty basic group of buildings where around 45 children and older girls live,
whose parents cannot or will not look after them.
There, too, young unmarried women, pregnant and rejected by their families.
In a country without anything really in the way of social welfare,
the Sisters at the home give these children and young women a chance.
They provide food and shelter, some sort of family to belong to.

The girls attend school, there is even a chance for some to attend University.
The Home, early this decade, celebrated its first graduate –
can you imagine what a different life that young woman has been gifted
within that community?

Young people from this country travel to and work at St Christophers,
and are offered an extraordinary glimpse of the Church at work
transforming individual lives and the whole community.

I could tell you other stories, of worshipping in Hindi congregations,
because the Anglican Church in Fiji
has a strong ministry among the Indian community.

Of the Primary and Secondary schools in Labasa, and the Girls’ Hostel,
where the Anglican Church, a small church in Fiji,
is able to serve the whole region
through improved access to education.

Polynesia and Melanesia have strong connections
to the Anglican Church in New Zealand.
Melanesia was, by some misunderstanding of the huge distances involved,
given to Bishop Selwyn as part of our Province from the very beginning.

Papua New Guinea
is perhaps the only place in the Pacific where missionaries,
often the Anglican Melanesian Brotherhood,
are meeting people still who have never known
the liberating power of the Gospel,
who have never had real contact with the outside world.

And that – meeting, and being transformed – is what it is about, Missions.
It’s not about people giving their money or expertise or time.
And yet of course these are all powerful expressions.

Missions is about the recognition that we are all partners in Christ.
Missions is about wanting to find expressions for that partnership,
to learn from one another more about the God we worship together.
I was sent to Fiji to study.
But the learning was mostly outside the classroom.
About hospitality and generosity, the way people give of themselves,
people we would think of as poor.

To be invited to worship with fellow Christians, fellow-Anglicans,
and to know that I belong, that we are family.
To give and to receive and in all that to feel the work of God.

To be in Fiji as a little symbol, it began to occur to me,
that we most certainly can learn from our partners-in-mission.
It is a two-way street.

I often have to explain that where I trained
there was not a sandy, palm-shaded beach to be seen for 25 miles.
No-one quite believes you can go to Polynesia and not be a tourist.

Christian missions calls us to take off our sunglasses and our jandals,
from as far away as we might feel,
to take off those things that insulate us
from the wonder, the possibility, the reality of partnership
and recognise that we stand together on holy ground.

I would like to encourage you
to find ways to journey a bit beyond the standard tourist coach itinerary.
To deliberately set out on a pilgrimage, not a package deal.
To think of the real people and real places we build real partnership with.

Then we may discover, much to our surprise,
we will be enriched rather than impoverished by our giving of ourselves in Mission.

Adapted from homily given at Holy Trinity, Gore, 2003

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